May 11, 2022

The Muck: What should happen if a poker player tests positive for COVID?

A player who pocketed chips in a live poker tournament begins to feel unwell and decides to take a COVID-19 test, which comes back positive. It’s a scenario that will likely occur on occasion with the world stuck in the middle of a seemingly endless pandemic.

When this similar situation occurs, what course of action should tournament operators take? In this edition of Mud, we dig deeper into this issue based on the opinions of the poker community.

We start The Muck with tweets from Allen Kesler and Justin Bonomo, who each contributed interesting suggestions on Twitter.

“The Chainsaw” was intended to ensure that those seated at a table with a COVID-positive player were informed by staff. He asked his supporters what kind of responsibility tournament staff should have to inform these people.

Bonomo, on the other hand, argued that tournament operators should have a policy in place to refund a player prize pool money if they test positive for COVID-19 during the event.

Respond to Kessler’s survey

Both of these issues are important to the poker community. Many pros chimed in on social media with interesting responses to Kessler and Bonomo. Based on the responses, it is clear that no matter what policies are put in place, many actors will disagree.

Allen Kesler

Of the 865 Twitter users who voted in Kessler’s poll, 58% voted in favor of the card room or tournament staff notifying opponents that a player at their table had tested positive for COVID-19. Everyone seems to believe that catching the virus during a pandemic is an assumed risk when playing live poker.

“Every event has direct and/or indirect exposure. Every player enters an event knowing this fact. Many might not want to admit it,” @ VIPVegas72 wrote.

“So you drive 1500 miles to play in a tournament and someone tells you someone has covid. I wouldn’t do anything and just keep playing. What would you do?” @Bancheeta tweeted.

“Unless they’re doing contact tracing, which would be next to impossible, just send everyone a notification and maybe a photo. That’s about all you can do,” @Eddiefelson2019 argued.

The question is whether poker room and tournament staff have a moral obligation to inform players and dealers that they have come into contact with someone who tested positive, possibly for many hours. Kessler criticized the World Tour of Poker (WPT) for failing to inform those seated with matt stout during the recently concluded WPT Five Diamond World Poker Classic after publicly announcing that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Reimburse sick players?

Bonomo raised a separate but related concern in his tweet, and that is the issue of giving players who test positive in the middle of a tournament a portion of the prize pool.

An example of this would be if a player experiences symptoms after pocketing a big stack after Day 2 of a three day event before the final table. If there is no policy in place to ensure the sick player is fairly compensated, will that player show up sick and not tell others at the table of the positive test ? But not everyone agrees with Bonomo’s suggestion.

“What if we just learned to live with Covid and people could decide to take their own risks. It’s not difficult “, @DontMindMe3 noted.

“He pulls out the test kit after being paralyzed” @YUFollowingM3 joked.

“What if we treated it like any other disease?” You get sick and you drop your blinds. @SherryPluskota added.

Sean McCormack, director of operations at the Aria poker room in Las Vegas, replied to Bonomo’s tweet.

Matt Savage, the executive director of the WPT tour, also responded.

“Lots of moving coins and need casino partners to agree to terms and there are different protocols per casino, state and country. It would also require all players to sign a release form and it’s hard enough to get some players to sign a standard TV release,” Savage wrote.

If tournament operators are to implement a policy to pay players part of the prize pool after testing positive for COVID-19 mid-tournament, they will have a few loose ends to iron out. Will the player only receive the buy-in, an ICM value based on their chip stack, or some other amount? And will such a policy divert certain players from competition?

During the 2021 World Series of Poker (WSOP) $250,000 Super High Roller, one player offered a buy-in refund for anyone who tested positive for COVID-19 during the bracelet event. But this is one of the rare examples where such a policy was put in place, and not all the players agreed.

There is probably no easy answer to a question that is bound to come up frequently in these pandemic times in which we live.